Article published in Nottingham Evening Post August 2nd 2011:
Monday: The excitement of a foreign business trip to Nigeria and a 7am flight from Heathrow means that I do not sleep but instead set off down the M1 at 3am – thinking that the motorway would be clear. I am surprised at the number of lorries on the motorway which certainly is not indicative of a UK recession.
I arrive at Terminal One at 5.30am and an hour later I am on the plane ready to fly to Frankfurt from where I am connecting.
I arrive in Frankfurt an hour later where I am to meet initially with the client on whose behalf I am travelling to Nigeria. He is one of Nigeria’s most successful entrepreneurs with business interests ranging from oil and gas, petrochemicals, automobiles and civil aviation to name a few. As I am not meeting him until late morning, he has kindly booked a room for me in a hotel allowing me to take a couple of hours’ much needed sleep, to freshen up and to be able to change into a suit.
We talk for approximately 45 minutes when I brief him of my plans for this trip and some 45 minutes later I am on the connecting flight to Nigeria (all nicely timed for me by the concierge service at Frankfurt airport) and the six-hour flight to the capital, Abuja, gives me enough time to enjoy a good lunch, watch “The Fighter” which is an excellent movie looking at the early years of the boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and get a couple of hours’ much needed sleep.
Tuesday:Having caught up on the rest of my sleep, I wake up on Tuesday and as always the Hilton Hotel in Abuja is buzzing as if one might be in the United Nations. This doesn’t surprise me as GDP growth in Nigeria is currently nine per cent and rising. The country has the second largest gas reserves and a population of 140m (and growing) of which 50 per cent are under the age of 18.
A recent Goldman Sachs report predicts that Nigeria will be the 20th largest economy by 2025.
Over breakfast I am met by one of my client’s senior managers who has now become a good friend after my previous five trips to Nigeria. We catch up on our respective families and then drive over to the offices where I meet with the senior employee who I am assisting with an important business visa application for India. Most of the preparation has already been carried out by me back at the office so it is just a case of going through the application documents and adding some original documents to the bundle.
All is in order and ready to be filed tomorrow.
We drive over to Chopsticks Chinese Restaurant, renowned as being one of the best in Abuja and while the location is beautiful, I now struggle with Chinese food anywhere in the world having eaten at some of the best Chinese restaurants in Shanghai.
The rest of the day into late evening, I relax at the hotel pool bar with two friends from previous trips, an American commercial airline pilot who is now employed by Julius Berger, a German construction company, flying their senior directors around Nigeria, and also a Lebanese artist who has been in Nigeria more than 20 years painting African wildlife.
Wednesday: After breakfast I make sure that I go to the hotel gym as over the previous four weeks I have started a fitness routine with a personal trainer at Virgin Active and want to make sure that I do not lose the momentum that I have gained.
I receive confirmation that the visa application has been submitted and will be fast tracked with a result known by Friday.
I am happy to note that peace has been reached in the south of Nigeria, primarily because of the amnesty that has been negotiated by the current President of Nigeria, part of which is a deal to ensure that the indigenous population of the south are trained in skilled and semi-skilled occupations so that they can benefit from the wealth that has been created by the oil sector in the Delta region.
The Nigerian Government are keen to send up to 25,000 people from this region to the likes of China, India, UK and Germany to be trained in NVQ level courses such as welding, hairdressing, construction etc.
A meeting is therefore arranged for me with the people who are responsible in Government for this project to find out more about opportunities for Nottingham institutions to benefit from providing training and to let them know about Paragon Law’s visa services.
A positive meeting and a business plan is now required.
In the evening I am taken to Abacha Barracks, named after the former Nigerian military leader and politician where there is a large beer garden run by the wives of soldiers and only fresh grilled fish served. A great evening of food, drink and African music.
Thursday: On Thursday morning I am introduced to a young and up-and-coming entrepreneur in Nigeria with a strong interest in both the education and health sector. He is currently in the process of setting up Nigeria’s first call centre. Our focus is to discuss Paragon Law’s visa services for international students looking to study at educational institutions in the UK and how to encourage some of the best talented students to choose the UK as a place to study on behalf of the universities and colleges that we act for in the UK. My friend Bob Betts, MD at Smith of Derby, also asked me to test the waters for the interest in their clocks in the Nigerian market. We discuss this opportunity and a good deal of interest is shown in the Smith of Derby products.
Friday: In the morning I interview our first prospective employee in Nigeria. He is the son of a good friend of mine, a lawyer by background and with good commercial acumen. He is hired.
In the afternoon I catch up on my e-mails and correspond with some of my clients back in the UK who are recruiting foreign nationals into their business.
In the evening I meet with Peter Stevenson, a native of Nottingham and up until recently, the Director of Trade at the British Consulate in Nigeria. He now works for Osprey Investments and after “chewing the fat” over dinner, we go over to the Elephant Bar to relax and enjoy a very good band who can sing everything from Bob Marley through to the Rolling Stones.
Saturday: After the previous night, I have no intention of waking up early, although once I do it is straight to the gym to keep up with my fitness routine. I then enjoy watching the ladies’ tennis final at the pool bar over lunch.
In the afternoon I lock myself away in my hotel room to begin to draft the text for Paragon Law’s new website and the two new divisions that we are introducing to the business.
In the evening I meet with one of my client’s senior managers who I have previously met in Shanghai. He takes me to Wakki’s, an Indian restaurant (which is not too bad at all) and where I learn the amusing experiences of a Chinese man in Nigeria.
Sunday: A relaxed morning followed by the men’s Wimbledon final over lunch at the pool. In the afternoon I am invited for tea at a local café by the employee who is travelling to India to thank me for the work in respect of his visa application.
In the evening I rest and prepare for my return flight tomorrow via Frankfurt where I will be meeting with my client and then on to London.
I look forward to getting back to see family and friends.
Buzzing with visitors: Abuja, Nigeria.